Chemical Engineer Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a chemical engineer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry and math to create manufacturing processes, equipment, and products. Some of their job duties include performing research, ensuring safety procedures get followed, doing performance tests and estimating costs. Chemical engineers need at least a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, although those who want to pursue advanced roles in management, academia or research might need a graduate degree. Like other types of engineers, chemical engineers need state licensure to provide engineering services to the public.

Educational Requirements

As noted, chemical engineering jobs require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Non-engineering requirements include extensive chemistry courses and labs, such as analytical, organic and physical chemistry. Other non-engineering requirements include sequences in calculus and physics. The engineering portion includes coursework and labs in chemical processes, transport, and reactions.

Students might prefer programs accredited by ABET, Inc., which has accredited more than 100 chemical engineering programs. Accreditation by ABET demonstrates the school adheres to a set of academic principles and teaches its students a core set of industry-required skills. Accreditation is required by many graduate schools and licensing boards.

Licensing Requirements

All 50 states require engineers who offer their services directly to the public to are licensed. Engineers must pass two exams, which are administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) to become licensed. Engineering students near graduation can sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Individuals who pass the FE exam must work for four years before they can sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. The PE is typically the final step in becoming licensed.

Graduate Degree Options

Although most chemical engineering positions only require a bachelor's degree, some positions require graduate degrees. And those with advanced training may be better positioned for leadership or management opportunities. Most schools offer master's and doctoral degree programs in chemical engineering.

Master's candidates might have a chemical engineering background, or they could be entering the chemical engineering field from another discipline. These programs typically require advanced coursework and may include a thesis requirement. Most master's degree programs can be completed in 1-2 years, depending on the student's undergraduate experience.

Doctorate programs prepare chemical engineers to teach at the university level or lead research projects. Some graduate schools accept doctoral candidates who only have a bachelor's degree, while others require applicants to hold a master's degree. Doctoral students typically study for 5-6 years and this time is divided between coursework and research. Before the degree is conferred, students may need to pass examinations as well as write and defend a dissertation.

Career Overview

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemical principles and interactions to create products and chemicals. These engineers may devise manufacturing processes and conduct research to solve scientific problems. They also might be responsible for safety issues, such as by-products that are left over from manufacturing or research.

Chemical engineers are employed by many industries, such as pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, and research. They are instrumental in the development of everyday products, such as gasoline, plastics, and paper.

The BLS predicted that employment of chemical engineers would increase by 2% over the years 2014-2024, which was slower than the average for other occupations. According to the BLS, the May 2015 mean annual salary for chemical engineers was $103,960.

In summary, the minimum education requirement for chemical engineers is a bachelor's degree, while a master's or doctoral degree could lead to advanced positions.

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